Huddled together in 1644, representatives of 7 churches gathered to summarize their common confession, and to distinguish themselves from the Anabaptists and the Arminians. It was a time of turmoil, and the river of the Reformation had swept across the shores of England. This was one of the first of several non-Anglican groups in that century to put pen to paper and confess their faith. Two years later, the Westminster Assembly would produce its own confession (WCF), and then in 1658, the Congregationalists would follow suit (Savoy Declaration). That original group of 7 churches was the Particular Baptists. Amid threats of persecution, and to show their solidarity and theological agreement in many ways with the Presbyterians and Congregationalists that had since written their own confessions, a larger crop of Baptists would draft the 1677 Baptist Confession with great reliance on the WCF and Savoy, however, this confession would be put forth by a General Assembly of Particular Baptists ultimately in 1689, giving it the name that it is known by today: “The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith”, often called the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith. This Confession was classically theist in its view of God, covenantal in its view of Biblical Theology, “Calvinist” in its soteriology, and would show alignment with the Westminster Confession of Faith on the Ordinary Means of Grace and the Law. I grew up Baptist, became Calvinistic in my soteriology in my teen years, and have found a wonderful home in the confessional roots of Baptist theology as a pastor in my mid-thirties. To me, this Historic Confession, similar to the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Savoy Declaration, is worth considering for at least five reasons:
1. For Baptists influenced by the ‘New Calvinism,’ it is helpful to see that for Baptists, Calvinism is not “new.” Many Baptists, myself included, embraced Calvinism and became ravenous for the writings of the Reformed tradition. We discovered that past the “5 points”, a covenant theology existed, but we assumed it really belonged to the Presbyterians. Yet, if we study our own history, we would see that the large, world-wide Baptist movement across the globe today really came out of a group of solidly Calvinistic, and even covenant theology-holding Particular Baptists. But from the 1800’s until the mid 1900’s, we lost our Confession. Baptists have a strong, soteriologically rich heritage. If you read the original forward to the confession, the heart of the signatories is brimming with a desire to find common ground with their Presbyterian and Congregationalist brethren. They write in their original letter to the reader, “…contention is most remote from our design in all that we have done in this matter.” A helpful history is found here.
2. There is value in saying more sometimes. In a day when statements of faith in many churches can be a minimalist endeavor, it is good to have a comprehensive summarized Systematic Theology. I once heard a dear brother say that the Confession is like a wonderful English garden, where Calvinism is only one set of beautiful flowers contained therein. The early Baptists were not content to have a Calvinistic soteriology alone. They viewed the pieces of systematic theology as fitting together–rising and falling together. If we adopt an historic confession, will this increase our need to teach new believers, or spend ‘extra’ time with new church members unfamiliar with a lengthier confession? Yes, but isn’t this ultimately a fruitful fulfillment of our commission to make disciples?
3. Historic confessions ground us. What would Biblical or Systematic or Exegetical Theology be without the aid of Historical Theology? While not inspired Scripture, historic confessions help us to work through doctrine in connection with saints who have gone before us. For Baptists particularly, we have vacillated across a wide expanse of theological understanding since the days of the late 1600’s, even since the days of Spurgeon, and this expanse includes several movements that had no real historic connection prior to their sudden development. Historic Confessions serve as a guide rail against much post-enlightenment theological novelty that has swept Evangelical Protestantism. What if a renewed interest in our own confessional heritage is what we need as we continue to grow and minister for and towards the glory of God?
4. Believer’s Baptism has much of its roots in a Covenant Theology. My many Presbyterian friends may wince, laugh or want to take me to task on that statement. However, for early Baptists coming out of the Church of England, two things drove their view of Baptism in my opinion (and it was not to be ignorantly petty, pesky, or contrarian, nor was it alignment with the Anabaptists from whom they had already expressed distinction). They believed in the Regulative Principle of Worship (observing in public worship only that which we see in the Scriptures). This, combined with their understanding of Covenant Theology led them to refocus on the practice of baptizing those who come to the promise of the Covenant of Grace in faith, not those who come due to a connection of flesh (infants with parents). This is not to say that one cannot believe in Believer’s Baptism without a Calvinistic or covenantal theology, but only to show what the original roots were regarding the early, Puritan Baptists and their Credobaptist practice. Although not monolithic, Particular Baptist Covenant Theology was essentially the idea that the Covenant of Grace is synonymous with the New Covenant and was only revealed in the previous biblical covenants (Abrahamic, Davidic, etc.) but that the Biblical Covenants were not the Covenant of Grace in substance. They were each steps of the unfolding revelation of the ultimate Covenant of Grace, but the substance, the actual ratification of the covenant, was not until the New Covenant. This leads to a full-fledged conviction of Credobaptism. If one views the substance of the Covenant of Grace as synonymous with or being in substance the same as say the Abrahamic Covenant however, then paedobaptism is the logical conclusion. The early Baptists believed in giving the sign of the Covenant of Grace (New Covenant) to those whose interest in it was faith versus flesh since fleshly covenantal connection ended with the Abrahamic Covenant. Much more could be said, but Baptists also have their place historically among the Confessional Reformed. I am so thankful for my many Paedobaptist brothers, both awake and asleep, who have guided my theological development in Reformed Theology. I just rejoice that my early Baptist brothers held to it as well…
5. It contains a wonderful vision for the Christian life. Early Baptists were convinced of the Ordinary Means Grace. They agreed with their Presbyterian Brethren that the Lord’s Supper was more than a memorial. They embraced the God-given rhythm of 1 in 7, and valued Sabbath rest each week. They held that the Moral Law, summarized in the 10 Commandments, while not a means of earning righteousness, was a guide for the believer along the Christian road of joyful gospel obedience. And they valued, with their Protestant counterparts, a strong Word-Centered Christian life. In fact, this vision for the Christian life is one that I often turn to as a Pastor in the counseling of others. In my work with people in the counseling setting, I have found that proper systematic theology is crucial for growth in Christian life. I have also found that the vision for the Christian life laid out in this biblically-accurate Confession is one that can aid the believer in their journey. For instance, many shorter statements of faith do not mention a weekly rhythm of one in seven–a creational pattern given by God which benefits us. Nor do they mention a robust view of the ordinary means of grace, through which our faith “is increased and strengthened” (2LCF 14.1). Every Christian needs this vision, but it is especially important for person wrestling with fear, anxiety, depression and/or bereavement to be reminded of these God-given patterns.
Consider the 1689. The theology found therein, systematized from the Bible, has great and helpful implications for biblical counseling, and we will explore some of these in a few posts to come.